Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Over the last few years, society and the extent to which society acts as a whole has been pushed. COVID-19 and its lockdowns have revealed both the best and worst of our societies, the true extent to which governments have control, and the willingness to operate together for mutual benefit of individuals. Conservative leadership debates have recently presented different ideas and theories on society.
So, what is society? It is the common unity of people; all united with common aims and dreams. Within each society is a multitude of individuals. The success of a society is dependent on each and every individual. So how can so many different people work together effectively?
One way of viewing the success of society is through the sacrifice of individual wants for general wants. In this sense, individual wants are personal desires, and usually result in self-benefit. General wants on the other hand are known as the will of everyone. These wants are an aggregate of everyone's particular wants, and are in everyone's best interests, such as free education for all. Sometimes, general wants may not feel as though you in particular are benefitting and are a waste of time, but it is crucial to be aware that out there in the seemingly large society, there are others who are benefiting. An example being a parent who sends their child to a private school and still pays tax that contributes to the running of state schools. Although they may not use this service, and even potentially wish they did not have to contribute parts of their income as it conflicts with an individual want, they may have of using their money alternatively, the service is addressing a general want for free education (these debates are seen on many online platforms such as preply). If this parent refused to contribute to state education, would it be right for them to still use the other benefits that society presents, such as safety? Probably not. Therefore, to be part of society and for it to function well, individuals must adhere to the rules; sacrificing individual wants for general wants.
But can this be taken too far? Would the sacrifice of individual wants end up extinguishing freedoms? Can society be truly successful if its members are not free? Freedom of speech is essential for society to operate successfully. Surely, we need as many people as possible to present their opinions and thoughts on how society should operate to enable it to run as effectively as possible. Without the sharing of ideas from everyone, society could easily become stagnant and fail to grow and develop. Will China eventually come to a halt due to lack of freedom of speech? With only senior members of the governing communist party being able to publish criticisms on the Communist party, the chances of China's government becoming more efficient through constructive criticism is unlikely. However, freedom of speech can also be potentially damaging for society. The power of words is extremely underrated and it only takes a couple to seed doubt in individuals minds. Just look at the masses who support the allegations of QAnon. Their claims could be, and probably are, damaging to society.
Therefore, although some freedoms are essential for society, others could damage or destroy it. The freedoms that benefit society are known as civil liberties. For society to work well, there must be a trade off between natural liberties and civil liberties. Natural liberties are those we imagine to exist in a primitive society. In such a society (which in all sense really is not a society due to limited interrelations) no land is owned, and I would have no obligation to my fellow individual. If I was hungry, I could go to any tree and take its fruit. However, in a modern society of today, I could only take the fruit if it was my tree. If the tree belonged to another and I took the fruit, that would be thievery and I would be punished by the laws in that society. This would be an example of civil liberties: the laws established in a society for the good of its members, in this case to stop fruit thieves pinching your fruit. Therefore, there is a compromise of freedoms in a well-functioning society. A member must give up their own freedoms for society's freedoms.
As natural liberties are limited by only the individual's power, and civil liberties by the general will, it may seem that this is a trade-off for the worse. Acting as an individual, I would have had so much more freedom; being able to do what I want when I want. However, in reality, what good is lots of freedom, when it cannot all be reached. To explain better, what would be the point of owning the whole world and being the only person on it with only your two feet to travel, when you cannot use it all. There will be areas that you may never see because your own powers, being physical here, will prevent you reaching every part of the world and using it. But if one thousand more people joined your world, you would lose the power to choose what you wanted to do with the land, instead everyone would have to agree. However, in return for this lost liberty, now you could use more of the world you had, and reach different areas you could not previously through others' help and inventions. You would therefore gain and reap the rewards of civil liberty. In order for society to maximise its power and utility, individuals must be willing and accepting to give up their natural liberties.
In conclusion, I believe that for society to function effectively, there must be a sacrifice of individual wants for general wants to achieve benefits for all. Natural liberties must also be sacrificed in order to gain civil liberties. These liberties must also be preserved, as they mutually benefit all in that society. There are of course many other contributions to an effective society that I have not had time to touch on, such as the role and operation of sovereignty and the unifying bound of a society whether it be through religion or aspiration.
Although this is a philosophical debate, there is a strong practical message. The success of others is dependent on you and the choices and sacrifices you make. Each and every one of us is a small cog in a machine and every cog needs to be working for the machine to produce its maximum output. Perhaps we may never see the final output of this machine, that being the true extent of what humans achieve united, due to self-interest and differing personal objectives. Working together has been an evolutionary change, and as the decades go by, we are more united than ever. We have transformed from small hunter gatherer societies to being united with millions through the tap of a button. But perhaps there is just not enough time for this slow evolutionary ramble to reach its end point, and in the end humanity’s disunity may be its own destruction.